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Recovery Strategy for the Hickorynut and the Kidneyshell [Final Version]

Introduction

Freshwater mussels are among the world’s most imperiled taxa with declines reported on a global scale (Bogan 1993; Lydeard et al. 2004). The rich unionid fauna of North America has been hit particularly hard with over 70% of the approximately 300 species showing evidence of declines with many now considered rare, endangered, threatened or imperiled (Allan and Flecker 1993; Williams et al. 1993). Canada is home to 55 unionid species, 41 of which can be found in the province of Ontario with 18 species having Canadian distributions restricted to this province. The rivers of southwestern Ontario, primarily those draining into Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, are home to the richest unionid assemblages in Canada. The Sydenham River has historically been considered to be the richest unionid river in all of Canada (Clarke 1992) with a total species count of 34 (Metcalfe-Smith et al. 2003), however, recent evidence suggests that the Grand (Metcalfe-Smith et al. 2000) and Thames rivers (pers. comm. J. Metcalfe-Smith, National Water Research Institute, Burlington, Ontario), also with historic species counts of 34, were equally diverse.

            Despite the historic richness of these rivers, recent events have led to significant declines in the unionid communities of southwestern Ontario. Intensive agricultural activity, expanding urbanization and the introduction of invasive dreissenid mussels (zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga (Dreissena bugensis) mussels) have all been implicated in large scale declines observed in freshwater mussel populations over the last two to three decades (Nalepa 1994; Metcalfe-Smith et al. 2000; Metcalfe-Smith et al. 2003).  During this time 4 species have been lost from the Sydenham River, 10 species have disappeared from the Thames River and the community of the Grand River has been reduced by 9 species.  These declines, coupled with the near complete collapse of the Great Lakes populations (Nalepa et al. 1996), have led to the listing of 8 Ontario mussel species as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC).  

The Ontario Freshwater Mussel Recovery Team (OFMRT) was formed in the spring of 2003 to address concerns about the status of Ontario’s freshwater mussel populations and to begin to address the recovery planning obligations under Canada’s new Species at Risk Act (SARA). The National Recovery Strategy for the Round Hickorynut and the Kidneyshell was developed by the OFMRT using the best available information in an effort to reduce the threats, prevent their extirpation and, if possible, to restore these species to healthy, self-sustaining levels.  In recognition of the degree of overlap between these species in both their historical and current distributions, as well as the commonality of threats, the OFMRT has adopted a multi-species approach to the recovery of these species.